Building Bodies, Constructing Selves

The Architecture of the Fitness Gymnasium


  • Sandra Louise Kaji-O'Grady University of Queensland
  • Sarah Manderson



Fitness gymnasiums shape subjects and establish communities. The extraordinary rise in the number of high-end, architect-designed fitness gymnasiums responds to, and accelerates market demand as individuals adapt to societal expectations. Yet going to the gym is not experienced as an external directive. It is felt as a desire to be one’s best, to live fully, to succeed. The central role played by design is to (re)produce the desire to voluntarily subject oneself to regimes of self-control and self-transformation. This article looks at how the diverse architecture and interior design of the fitness gymnasium creates this desire and constructs subject positions. Today’s gymnasiums reference elements of bathhouses, spas, surgical clinics, sanatoria, monasteries, discotheques and nightclubs, factories, homes, clubs, hotels, S&M dungeons, massage parlours, beauty salons, cafés, and, even, art galleries – albeit not all in one space. We analyse the richly diverse aesthetics of several commercial chains of gymnasiums and explore the affective experiences established through the manipulation of atmospheric qualities.

Author Biographies

Sandra Louise Kaji-O'Grady, University of Queensland

Sandra Kaji-O’Grady is a professor in the School of Architecture at the University of Queensland. She co-edited Laboratory Lifestyles (MIT Press, 2018) and is co-author, with Chris L. Smith, of LabOratory: Speaking of Science and its Architecture (MIT Press, 2019). Each of these books examines the political, material and aesthetic economies of the contemporary laboratory for bioscience research. Her next book, Pets and the City, is concerned with the design of places wherein companion animals, especially cats and dogs, are kept in multiples, and with the intersection between this actuality and ideas about packs, hoards and pestilence.

Sarah Manderson

Sarah Manderson is an Architectural graduate from the University of Queensland. Since the beginning of 2019 she has been a collaborator in Speculative Architecture, a practice that cultivates opportunities to contribute openly to the city through small institutional projects. Sarah’s research pursues productive convergences between the politics of aesthetics, the relationality of material realities, and the agency of architects to intervene actively in the cultural production of everyday spatial experience.


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